By Ayanda Nyoka, from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
The Finding Ways to Walk Together dialogue initiative in South Africa hosted a youth dialogue, the last of the four regional dialogues on the 31st May to 1st June in the Free State province, in partnership with the International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social justice of the Free State University. The dialogue was set to coincide with youth month which begins the 1st of June each year to commemorate the youth of 1976 who came together on June 16 in Soweto and different parts of South Africa in resistance against Bantu education.
Youth month is the one time in the country’s calendar where so much attention is dedicated to youth and the team felt it was both significant and opportune to have a youth dialogue at such a time to help us reflect on the role of youth in post-apartheid South Africa. The focus on youth was also in response to the marginalisation of ordinary youth in mainstream dialogue. While it may be that efforts by government and policy makers are focused on finding solutions to the youth crisis of unemployment, it is not enough to simply talk ‘about’ the youth, yet we don’t include them in those important conversations that affect them. From the dialogue, it is clear that young people are eager to contribute to dialogue about the country’s development, and that if interventions targeted at youth such as the youth wage subsidy are to succeed; they have to reflect the voices and aspirations of young people.
And so, over the two days a small group of young people, mostly students from the Free State University got together to dialogue about how we can find effective and inclusive approaches to walk together for the country’s socio-economic development. The group raised concerns about the highly politicised nature of existing dialogue spaces, and the fact that these spaces were dominated by the older generation. Where opportunities exist for youth to participate in these spaces, there is a bias in favour of youth with political affiliations. There was a consensus among the group that safe and inclusive spaces need to be created where young people can participate in dialogue as citizens and not have to be political affiliates. The question arose then whether youth should try to infiltrate these ‘exclusive’ spaces or create parallel spaces for youth from all works of life. After much discussion, the group agreed that they would not wait to be invited to existing spaces but will work on creating parallel spaces that are safe and inclusive. Of course, even these spaces would have to be connected to the national dialogue for meaningful change and impact.
Tensions between the old generation and the young were also acknowledged; in response participants identified the need to intergenerational dialogue to take place to shift adult orientations from simply seeing young people as a threat but as an important ally and an asset for the country’s development. Young people say: “You (the older generation) passed us a history that was not proof-read. We are living your pain. We need not give history the power it currently has” (extract from the full report compiled by Chris Spies).
On the last day, resolutions were taken that the group will sustain and convene their own dialogues which are inclusive of diverse youth groups and they will also work towards establishing strong links between the university and the community.